Building an Organization That Works, Part 1

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A historical model of organizational structure that has its roots in monarchies and the military is a simple hierarchy. In this system, all authority rests with the “boss” or leader of the organization. Authority to hire, fire, direct, create, and manage may be delegated to various extents and still, it is fully held at the top of the organizational structure. This has historically worked fairly well in environments where the way to accomplish what there is to accomplish is already known and clearly visible. It can allow for effective management of what the boss and/or bosses know how to do. There are indeed places where this may be the most effective structure for an organization. It is however taken for granted in many organizations that this is the correct way to do things, which in some environments and situations may leave a great deal to be desired.

There are numerous challenges to this hierarchical structure:

  • In this structure, the absolute limit on the commitment that individual participants can make to the organization is a commitment to doing what they are told.
    • This compliance can come from many sources.
      • A desire to forward ones career.
      • A pattern or training in deference/obedience.
      • A belief that one’s bosses are one’s “superiors” with respect to the task at hand.
      • A desire to be, perfectly, a cog in a machine.
    • The sources of these beliefs or patterns can also vary, including
      • A belief that this is the best way to proceed in order to get the job done.
  • At every level in the organization, and in every goal of the organization, method is not questioned.
    • Unquestioned, there is little opportunity for evolution of process outside of what is already seen by the ruling party or parties.
    • “Blind spots”- the limits or constraints on the bosses ability to see every option, will affect every operation.
    • In these environments, “homogeneous teams” tend to arise based on the tendency to look at things from only one perspective.
      • These teams will have, and themselves provide, limited resources.
      • There is no mandate to examine what seems to be so.
  • The fact that line level employees are not empowered to lead leaves them also disempowered to identify “breakdowns”. 
    • They are unlikely to bring to the foreground places where flaws in the system, sudden changes in circumstance, or other factors, interfere with the predictability of committed results.
    • They cannot be counted on to resolve such “breakdowns” as they occur.
  • Line level employees have no real stake in the results of the organization as a whole. 
    • They are not likely to reach outside of simple job description to produce or improve results
    • Their creativity, insight and input, not being required for daily participation, is unlikely to be available when needed to resolve breakdowns.

 

Please consider what works and doesn’t work in your organization:

  • How is your organization structured to support effectiveness? Innovation? Identification of potential obstacles or issues?
  • Do members of your organization have the experience of being responsible for the results of the organization as a whole?

Please send your thoughts. We will continue this conversation next month.

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